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Small business group hits the fan over report on Halifax's living wage

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Photo: Gavin Schaefer/flickr

Really?

Last week, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a progressive think-tank, published a meticulously detailed, 62-page, 72-footnote report commissioned by Halifax's United Way. Its purpose: to determine how much it takes for someone in Halifax to be "Working for a Living, Not Living to Work."

Which is when the small business hit the fan.

It turns out the living wage for a "healthy" family of four with both adults working full time and forking out for the usual -- "transportation, food, rental housing, clothing, childcare, medical expenses and other," but not for "frivols" like loan payments, life insurance or saving for retirement -- adds up to $20.10 an hour.

That's almost double the province's current minimum wage of $10.60 an hour.

The United Way raised close to $6 million last year and helped fund 56 do-good groups, ranging from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Halifax to the Urban Farm Museum Society, not to forget women's shelters, seniors' programs, homeless and youth programs. But it also sees itself as "an influential voice for change… that extends beyond funding."

That's why it paid the CCPA $23,000 to calculate Halifax's living wage to get a more accurate picture of the gap between what people actually make -- close to half of Halifax employees earn less than the living wage -- and what they need to live.

The United Way wasn't advocating for an increase in the legislated minimum wage. In fact, the "living wage movement" is primarily voluntary, with businesses distinguishing themselves with discerning consumers -- like companies that boast they sell "fair trade" products -- by publicly committing to paying employees a living wage.

That didn't stop the spokespeople from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business from instantly getting their small-minded, mean-spirited knickers in a righteous knot.

"If you're a small business," CFIB regional vice president Jordi Morgan crankily misrepresented, "do you support the United Way playing an advocacy role for a $20 minimum wage?"

"Given the United Way's growing role as a left-wing advocacy group," tweeted CFIB president Dan Kelly menacingly, "I suggest small firms rethink participation & support charities directly."

I suggest civic-minded, thoughtful small business owners re-think their membership in knee-jerk right-wing organizations like the CFIB.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Gavin Schaefer/flickr

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